Express Pharma

Curbing circulation of spurious and substandard medicines with QR codes

Nakul Pasricha, President, ASPA, explains the need for QR codes in curbing the circulation of spurious and substandard medicines and its benefit to the Indian economy

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Taking a considerable step towards making domestic pharma less vulnerable to falsified medicines, the government of India has shortlisted 300 top drug brands and directed them to introduce QR codes on their packaging. Coming into implementation from May 2023, in the first phase, each leading brand holding a market share of at least 35 per cent for life-saving drugs will have to display QR codes on the packaging of the drugs. A gazetted notification has been issued in this respect. Brands of commonly used pain reliever, analgesics, anti-platelet, blood-sugar medicine, vitamin supplement and contraceptives have been selected by India’s drug pricing authority to implement QR codes. Drugs such as Dolo, Fabiflu, Ecosprin, Saridon, Limcee, Corex syrup, Sumo, Calpol, etc have been included in this list.

Implementation of QR codes on medicine packaging might seem like a small step, but, in fact, it can prove to be a huge effective agent of change. When scanned with a smart device, QR codes will reveal the authenticity of the drug and show important details such as the manufacturing company’s name, brand details, date of expiry, etc. Efficient enforcement of this initiative in India – the ‘Pharmacy of the World’ would prove to be a substantial move in curbing the circulation of spurious drugs in the system.

The pharma industry has been found to be one of the top targets for counterfeiting and falsified products. Even unprecedented crisis like the COVID pandemic was exploited by criminals to sell volumes of fake, spurious and substandard drugs. This not only poses a huge threat to human health and well-being, but is also denting the well-being of the economy, brand revenues and the faith of patients in the healthcare system. It is a huge hindrance to the delivery of proper healthcare services to people.

The implementation would discourage criminals from manufacturing and selling falsified products and create awareness among healthcare professionals, nursing staff, pharmacists and consumers about the need to check the authenticity of the medicine(s) they are purchasing. It would spark a positive buying behaviour among consumers making them less vulnerable to getting duped into buying spurious medicines.

The government’s draft notification is a step in the right direction in terms of protecting the distribution of drugs within the country and protecting the lives of consumers. However, at the moment, the notification calls for a “unique product identifier,” which can be taken to mean a code identifying the particular SKU. This is the same for all units of the SKU and is used for the identification of the product. However, to protect against counterfeiting, it is essential that each saleable unit of the drug in question has its own unique code. This can easily be generated and embedded in the QR code, and makes the product much more secure. We would encourage the regulation to be amended to include this unique code.

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